Johann Nikolaus Forkel
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He was born at Meeder in Coburg. He was the son of a cobbler, and received early musical training, especially in keyboard playing, from Johann Heinrich Schulthesius, who was the local Kantor. In other aspects of his music education he was self-taught, especially in regards to theory. As a teenager he served as a singer in Lüneburg, and studied law for two years at the University of Göttingen; he remained associated with the University for more than fifty years, where he held varied positions, including instructor of music theory, organist, keyboard teacher, and eventually director of all music at the university. In 1787 he received an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the institution.
Forkel is often regarded as the founder of Historical Musicology, for it is with him that the study of music history and theory became an academic discipline with rigorous standards of scholarship.
He was an enthusiastic admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music he did much to popularize. He also wrote the first biography of Bach (in 1802), one which is of particular value today, as he was still able to correspond directly with Bach's sons Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and thereby obtained much valuable information that would otherwise have been lost.
His library, which was accumulated with care and discrimination at a time when rare books were cheap, forms a valuable portion of the Berlin State Library and also of the library of the Königliche Institut für Kirchenmusik.
He died at Göttingen.
- Über die Theorie der Musik (Göttingen, 1777)
- Musikalisch kritische Bibliothek (Gotha, 1778)
- Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (Leipzig, 1788, 1801) at Universities of Strasbourg Digital Library.
The last is his other most important work. He also wrote a Dictionary of Musical Literature, which is full of valuable material.
To his musical compositions, which are numerous, little interest is to be attached today. However it is worth noting that he wrote variations on the English national anthem "God Save the King" for the clavichord, and that Georg Joseph Vogler wrote a sharp criticism on them, which appeared at Frankfurt in 1793 together with a set of variations as he conceived they ought to be written.
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- Free scores by Johann Nikolaus Forkel at the International Music Score Library Project
- Literature by and about Johann Nikolaus Forkel in the German National Library catalogue